gravity-fed 5-gallon bucket mini hydro generator

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sun, May 3, 2015 - 9:46pm

This looks like a nifty project if you have even a small source of falling water.

For instructions watch this YouTube video.


lambertad's picture
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PDF instructions

Here are instructions on a similar build in PDF format. Very thorough instructions. I think the entire PDF is 35 pages or so, it's a really good step-by-step. This would be a cool science fair project for high school kids or if you are lucky enough to have a property with a stream and some elevation change, you could have some free power.

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Need elevation!

The turbine shown in the O.P. is an impact/head-type turbine, designed for low-flow and high-head.  To use this effectively, one needs more than "to have a property with a stream and some elevation change."

It's important to keep in mind that 1 foot of water head (elevation) is only 0.433 psi.  This means that a 10-foot elevation change (which seems to be to be a lot more then "some elevation change") only equates to 4.33 psi of pressure to drive this turbine.

There are other turbine designs designed for high-flow and low-head; or, one could use an old-fashion kinetic turbine (water wheel) if one has a flowing stream.

lambertad's picture
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Excellent Points


Thanks for the input. I hesitated quantifying the elevation change needed to use one of these systems for a couple of reasons, but most importantly any sizing determinant would need to be site specific. Perhaps it would be nice to use this as a trickle charger for small electronics or an off grid location that you only need to run some LED lights or a small radio, but it's not much help for anything else (unless you use it infrequently and spend a lot of money on batteries). 

In the video the guys showed the bucket putting out around .8 Amps. If that runs 24 hrs a day x .8 amps you're only looking at around 19 amp hours per day (assuming no loses from inefficient wire sizing, putting the power in batteries, pulling that back out of batteries and changing it to AC, etc.). 19AH would essentially run my circular saw for 1 hour before I start eating into my battery storage. If I had lights, a radio, a fan, perhaps a blower on my wood stove, etc. your batteries start to run down rather quickly. Maybe you could build a manifold that allows you to connect 2 or 3 buckets to the same main pipe and get around 57 amp hours per day, then you would start making some headway towards actually having a 'useable' power source for some small daily needs. 

Whether you plan to use this as a hobby build or perhaps as small trickle charger for small loads, I think it's a cool design and having the plans in PDF format on your computer is a good idea. One thing that I struggle with in becoming prepared is that I lack hands on experience building things - anything from framing a shed/barn to welding to electrical to plumbing. I just haven't had the opportunity in my life to do things like that. So, while everything is still going well in the economy, I like to experiment and just build things for a hobby, do my own plumbing at my house or for my parents, etc. Not everything has to have a utility right now, but sometimes learning skills that you can use in the future is the most important. 

Could you share with us a DIY design for building a high-flow low-head hydro generator? I'd like to just look over the design and perhaps download the plans on my computer so that if I ever want to build/experiment with a design I could. Thanks.


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Also excellent points, Adam!

You're right on track, Adam.  With a relatively low head, this guy would just be a trickle or low current charging source.  That said, you make an even more important point about using hobby-scale projects to develop hands-on skills!  Home run!

I'm sorry I do not have any DIY plans for low-head, high-flow turbines; but, of you do a search for Kaplan Turbines, you may come up with something.  This style tends to be more "propeller" like, as opposed to the "jet-turbine" look of the impulse turbine in the O.P.

Back to your important point in developing skills via hobby-level projects, are you familiar with the so-called "Maker" movement?  "Make" magazine?  The "Instructables" website?  "Maker" labs are popping up all over the country.  It's becoming a popular, open-to-the-public activity at community colleges and universities.  If you do an internet search for "Maker Labs (your State)," you will likely find info for an open-source, open-participation Maker Lab near to you.


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Why make it complex?

If we look into after the apocalypse scenario where you have to build with what you can find then this micro-hydro makes some sense.
In this particular case it seems that they could get away with a small solar panel with a normal solar regulator that you can pick up as cheap standard stuff from a store.
It would save you a few days build and you don't have to worry about water flows, mechanical things that break, water intakes that could clog up etc.
Also you don't get the noise from the water turbine, and you probably get a lot less problems with electric noise interference that they have a problem with.

An even better way to solve the noise issue for low power devices like they use is to have a simple regulator for each device between the battery and the device that is powered.
In most cases all you need is a 78xx IC, to simple capacitors and a standard diode, total cost is about $1 per regulator, and that should solve your noise issue.

To me it looks like people that knows quite a bit about mechanics that uses their knowledge to solve a problem where they really needed more electrical knowledge to find a better solution to the problem.

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Gravitational Vortex Generator

Search gravitational vortex power plant on youtube. While it is larger, immobile and cost more to design/construct, this would over time cost less and provide for 24/7 electricity for at least a home given ~3ft hydraulic head and a flow of 20 ft^3/s.

Unfortunately a CWA 408 and/or 404 permits may "technically" be required. Hopefully has imploded these would be economical. Particularly when one factors in that they increase dissolved O2 content, lower temperature of the water through vortex field and improve the structure of the water (see Gerald Pollack @ WU). Oh, and fish pass through it too, with ease.

I have a design that I contend is superior to others but lack the resources to get the analysis done in a computational fluid dynamics platform needed to analyze the impeller design and hydraulics. I'm a registered civil engineer in CA and have 10 years construction so I can design, site and build these things ultimately.

I would love to hook up with someone with the vision and resources, and if versed in science open minded enough to understand we have been massively deceived in terms of science (in addition to just about every other sector). This a pristine off-grid solution for one with the means to help me manifest it.

In terms of total potentials for the United States; a quote from a federally funded research into the untapped potential of the US. coupled with FERC reliscencing relaxation (50% reduction in threshold) and there is tremendous upside potential. Factor the estimate below up by 25% for this as the analysis was conservative and incomplete.

The highest potential is identified in the Pacific Northwest Region (32%), followed by the Missouri Region (15%) and the California Region (9%).  In total, the undeveloped capacity is 84.7 GW, around the same size as the existing US conventional hydropower nameplate capacity (79.5 GW; NHAAP, 2013).  In terms of energy, the total undeveloped NSD generation is estimated to be 460 TWh/year, around 169% of average 2002–2011 net annual generation from existing conventional hydropower plants (272 TWh/year; EIA, 2013). (ORNL, 2014, p. 15)

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